The Irrational Logic of Rituals

Last month, I made a trip to Boston to finish building out the strategy behind a digital experience we’re creating for Cheerios in partnership with Zeus Jones and a Watertown-based non-profit organization. While we were there, we met and conversed with parents, thought leaders and professors from Harvard University. During reflection at the end of the first day, one of the professors said, “What you’re really trying to do here is turn breakfast routines into rituals.”

It’s such a simple, yet incredibly insightful, statement that has inspired me to think differently about brand building. I would argue that all brands should be interested in turning routines into rituals. Routines seem to be more about going through the motions over and over, whereas rituals are about actively, and repeatedly, experiencing something that’s uniquely meaningful to you. Modern marketers understand this distinction and interweave the philosophies of rituals into their products, services and brand building efforts.

Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, a well-known social psychologist, recently wrote a post on applying the principles of rituals to marketing. She expresses the importance of encouraging ritualistic behavior, similar to Oreo (twist it, lick it, dunk it) and Guinness (the proper Guinness pour). “If consumers use a ritual to experience your product, they are likely to enjoy it more and be willing to pay more for it,” Dr. Halvorson claims. She continues on to say, 

“RITUALS HELP PEOPLE TO FEEL MORE DEEPLY INVOLVED IN THEIR CONSUMPTION EXPERIENCE, WHICH IN TURN HEIGHTENS ITS PERCEIVED VALUE.”

A brand built to deliver experiences that are uniquely meaningful to people are in the ritual creation business. As Dr. Halvorson points out, many of the rituals people go through don’t even make sense. To us, at least. But they make perfect sense to the people creating and experiencing them. Which reminds me of a quote I used from Mark Addicks in my Anatomy of a Modern Marketer presentation, “I love figuring out people’s irrational logic of things.” Irrationality certainly influences how, when and why people create rituals.

The more we can be part of ritualistic brand building efforts, the better. It’s empathetic in that it keeps the focus on people and it makes business sense because it works for the bottom line. Moving forward, I think we should all spend more time trying to figure out people’s irrational logic of rituals. When you do it, just make sure to grab yourself a proper pour of Guinness.